Sunday, November 15, 2009

Alberto signs with Specialized, who will pay part of his salary at Astana

“They’re very good bicycles, quite a bit better than Trek, hahaha.” Alberto Contador jokes when talking about the contract that he signed yesterday with Specialized, a California bicycle firm with whom he will ride next season. At the same, he time takes the opportunity to slip in a reference to Trek, also an American bicycle on which he pedaled in recent years, and a brand which will be forever associated with Lance Armstrong, who will ride on a different team next year.

The agreement—for one year with an option by mutual accord of more, depending on the future of Contador as of 2011—will be finalized in the next few days, when the last few details are settled, with another contract of co-sponsorship between Astana, the team with which Contador will fulfill his remaining year of commitment, and Specialized.

“The team looks great,” says the cyclist from Pinto, who in order to make the agreement official is only waiting for the UCI to give the Kazakh team its license for 2010. The deadline for the awarding of ProTour licenses is next Friday.

Associating its image with the figure of the winner of the last Tour, the only cyclist who can compete with Armstrong and Trek on their turf—the North American market for quality bicycles, the most mouthwatering and lucrative—has its price.

According to the Belgian press last week, Specialized was ready to pay a million euros as a contribution to the Spaniard’s salary of five million, to the sponsor Quick Step, one of the teams that wants to sign him. Astana, where it will also contribute to Contador’s pay, will be the third ProTour team supplied by the American company, together with Quick Step, with whom it partnered in the days that Paolo Bettini won two World Championships, and Saxo Bank, the team of Luxembourg’s Andy Schleck, dauphin to Contador in the last Tour.

During the last Tour, in fact, Contador had to pay out of his own pocket for the wheels of the bicycle on which he won the time trial at Annecy, since, say his friends, the team’s best pair of wheels were reserved for the leader, Armstrong.

By creating an agreement with the brand that invented the mountain bike, Contador will not only avoid those problems, but—and it’s a sign of his rank and his global impact—joins the lineage of only a few riders in history who have had the ability to dictate their choice of mount as general issue for the teams in which they ride.

The agreement also emphasizes the ferociously individual way in which Contador must forge his way in a sport that is going through great changes. While other historical figures in Spanish cycling, like Perico Delgado or Miguel Induráin, simply worked within existing frameworks that provided for all their needs, Contador, ever since Manolo Saiz’s goup dissolved, must invent his future every year.

Next, at the end of 2010, he will have to decide whether to sign with another team, like Caisse d’Epargne, or to create his own, with his sponsors and suppliers. Perhaps, in this sense, his commitment with Specialized is a sign of the trend of things to come.

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